Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sabbath Day Musings

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 4-5-17: )
THESIS: The longsuffering of our Saviour presents to us a challenge – Are we as patient with our enemies? Even our friends?

This evening we’ll again be considering Mark 2:23-3:6

23And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.[1]

The last time we met together we considered the Sabbath day itself.  If we are going to understand the texts before us, we need to rightly know the Sabbath.  You may recall the thesis of that message, To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.  We considered many passages but we did not closely handle the text of Mark.  Today we will consider Mark 3:1-6, but before we do so, I want to briefly consider the matter of David and the showbread, and Christ’s handling of the Pharisees in that portion. 

The account of which Christ refers is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  The show bread is better known to be the bread of the presence.  Leviticus 24 tells us that each Sabbath 12 hot loaves of this bread was to be placed before the Lord.  Every week the previous week’s bread was given to the priest and his family, while 12 new loaves were set before the Lord.  It was 5 of the 12 loaves which was to be given David.  And it was the fact that David and his men had a real need.  They were not just wanting a snack – they were hungry.

Christ uses this account to justify his disciples actions in the grainfield.  And I want you to note, he not only uses this account, he challenges them in the matter when he states, “Have you not read what David did…”  As we will see later, Christ uses probing questions as he teaches.  Questions can be excellent tools to teach with, they cause the hearer to evaluate and think.  In this case Christ is not only asking them to evaluate the history of David and the showbread, but also to evaluate their motives.  The implication is that of course they had read this account.  And here is the kicker – they knew David had not done evil and neither had Christ’s disciples.

One of the resources I used for this message was a rather simple Bible study book on Luke by William Barclay and he had a couple of fascinating insights.  The Rabbis themselves said, ‘the Sabbath is made for you and not you for the Sabbath’.  That is to say at their highest and their best the Rabbis admitted that human need abrogated ritual law.[2]  In our account we read that Christ finalizes his defense using their own proverb against them!  The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  These men not only were without defense, they were dead wrong! And this using an account from as far back as David – nearly 1000 years before!  They did not have a leg to stand on. 

The declaration, Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath speaks to us also of the unique relationship of Jesus to us.  Christ did not claim Lordship over the Sabbath based on his deity – but on his humanity.  I want you to grasp this clearly.  Christ being the God-man has a unique place in history.  David could break the Sabbath justly, because of the human need of real hunger.  Christ claims – for his disciples sakes to be Lord of the Sabbath.  And it is this same Lord, who due to his humanity, knows our every weakness and need. Psalm 103:14 states, For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. Hebrews 4:15 says, For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. The beauty of our God is his ability to really know us!  And the beauty of the Sabbath is for us to know our God! 

As we consider Mark 3:1-6 the overall subject of debate is the same – Christ and his handling of the Sabbath.  In a way there are many parallels between the two accounts.  Christ is the accused one.  His accusation is on the heels of helping someone in human need.  The accusers are again the Pharisees.  Only the site is different – in the synagogue.  We aren’t told what city, but it was most likely one of the northern Galilean cities, possibly Capernaum, which was frequented by him.  If that is the case it’s even more interesting, since the cities of Galilee were the backwaters of the nation.  To see that Jesus’ ministry was attracting their attention, even way up north demonstrates his popularity to some extent. 

Exegetically there is really only one comment I need to make – when the Scripture states the Pharisees were watching him – the word used there is not of a casual glance or passive viewing – the men were looking for him to slip up and perhaps even making mental notes of the event – so that they might charge him with a crime. 

One of the difficulties in studying the gospel accounts is the amount of eyewitness data which we have to evaluate.  I am a firm believer that there is a harmony in the Scripture.  If we do not believe there is a harmony in the Scripture – that is to say, if we believe that there are contradictions in the book – then we cannot trust any of it, in my estimation.  Either it is true, or it is not.  Any apparent contradiction is due to one of the following factors: We have not studied the passage enough, or we have lost a piece of the cultural history or it is a matter of the manifold mysteries of God.  At times it can be a whole multitude of things. 

But as students of the Bible, we should never be satisfied to settle with an indeterminate understanding.  It may be that we have to set the text aside for a time and come back to it later.  I have done this before. I once had a very inadequate view of my assurance.  There were just too many difficult passages, and sometimes we have to wrestle through them.  At the time, I was a very young believer, and did not have either the tools or the personal history with my God, to settle the matter.  So I did what we all need to do at times.  I found a good proof text and rested on that for a time (John 10:27-29).  It was nearly 12 years later before I began to get a better foundation of the believer’s assurance, and now I have a multitude of arguments and proof texts to settle on. 

So all that to say, there is a harmony in the Gospel accounts but the 3 accounts do have some apparent contradictions.  I hope to show you how I harmonized them and then we can see the real debate Christ had with the Pharisees and draw some conclusions.

To begin with we have to make several observations.  I know this is an exposition of Mark, however, since we have other Biblical accounts of the same event, we must consider them also.  Marks gospel does not stand alone. In Luke’s account (Luke 6:6-11) we learn that it was the man’s right hand which was withered.  Why do we need to know this bit of information?  Does it add to the account in any way theologically?  What reason might Luke have had to include this rather inane bit of evidence?  Neither of the other 2 accounts reference which hand it was that was withered.  We need to first realize that details like this aren’t inane. Details like this give significant weight to the verity of each account.  We have 3 very clear accounts of the event before us.  Yet none is a cookie-cutter of the others.  What we are doing as we seek to harmonize these accounts is very much like a cold-case investigator.    The difference we have between the modern detective working cold-cases, is that he also has to determine if the testimony given is true – we do not have that burden. 

We already know that we hold the Scripture to be true – and this is not simply because we have confessions that state it.  The confessions are restatements of the historical theological realities which preceded them.  Remember that it is Peter who tells us we have the ‘more sure word’!  We have eyewitness testimony, historical witness to the event – and just like modern day witnesses, the accounts can vary somewhat, yet still be the truth.  The fact that the witness of Scripture is true does however place us in a unique position.  We are required to seek, as best as we can, to reconcile those apparent contradictions.  To ignore them, is to actually cast doubt upon the truth of the whole witness of Scripture. 

So Luke tells us it was the man’s right hand. One other observation Luke makes is that Jesus knew their thoughts.  This bit of information will help us quite a bit when we are looking at the motives of the Pharisees. 

Matthew tells us that there was a great deal more dialogue than we see in either Mark or Luke.  In particular, we see one of our apparent contradictions – Matthew states specifically that it was the Pharisee’s who first asked, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  But while that seems to be a rather apparent contradiction – please note the question the Pharisee’s asked was NOT the same question the Jesus later reiterates in Mark 3:4.  The questions are quite similar – but the Pharisee’s questions is direct and pointed.  Jesus is asking a far more general question, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’

Let’s consider the Pharisee’s question – do you see how they are trying to pin Jesus down?  Such a question is not asked out of honest inquiry.  Consider some other questions posed to Christ – Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?  or Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?  None of these questions was asked out of genuine interest to learn – but only to indict Him.

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  Actually it was indeed lawful to heal, if the afflicted party was likely to die.  This wasn’t such a case.  The answer to the question is a qualified no. But they did not want to know the answer.  The fact of the matter was that this was a well-established principle.  The rabbis would occasionally debate the fine points of treatment – but truly the case of this man’s withered hand did not fall into those categories.

We read in Matthew that Jesus responded to their question with 2 other questions.  He actually treated their inquiry as though it were genuine - What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? We should strive to never answer a question according as it was asked.  There is a proverb which speaks to this very question, Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.”  This is one reason Christ could have used to answer such questions.  However, there is another motivation – love.[3]

We may perceive a dishonest question – but it may be the case that we are wrong – or there may be an honest party in the group listening.  Don’t forget, Luke tells us Christ knew their thoughts.  Nevertheless, he also accommodated their impetuous question.  And note the logic Christ employs in his questioning.  The first question, asked about a sheep in a pit is without answer.  Interestingly, there is a very similar account to Luke 6 in Luke 14, where Christ asks nearly the same question, in nearly the same circumstances – healing on the Sabbath.  This time it was in one of the Pharisee’s homes and the man to be healed had dropsy.  Christ first healed the man, and then asked, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” And they could not answer Him regarding these things.” 

But notice the logic – if you pull a sheep out of a pit…Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Again we hear no answer.   Jesus now, I believe, asks them the question we read in our account in Mark - Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” This question is in line with the two questions found in Matthew, and sums it up nicely.  In every instance the question is not answered – because to answer it is to betray their motives. We are explicitly told that they kept silent, in more than one account.  Hearing no answer, Christ our Rabbi finalizes his teaching, ‘Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Barclay again comments, “Jesus lays down the great principle that, whatever the rules and regulations may say, it is always right to do a good thing on the Sabbath day.[4] 

In our account in Mark 3:5 we now read of Jesus anger.  Luke tells us he knew their thoughts, and here in Mark the reason given is that he was grieved by their hard hearts.  But I’d like to ask you, what does the fact that Jesus knew their hardheartedness tell us about how he strove with them?  In other words, when you see in your child a rebellious heart – do you strive with him, though you are grieved?  Or is it the case that, knowing their ways, you rake them over the coals out of spite?  What did Christ do?

Over and over throughout the Scripture we read that our God is a condescending God.  He associates with men of low-estate.  The incarnation itself speaks to that fact!  In our both the accounts laid out before us today, we see Jesus, teaching stubborn men.  Probing their thoughts, asking them to consider their ways.  We read in Isaiah, God appealing to us a number of times.  Isa. 1:18, Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.  In Isa. 55 nearly the whole of the chapter is God pleading with us.  And who can forget the bargaining that Abraham made with God over his nephew Lot? 

Brothers and sisters - it’s time to view our God aright.  Seeing the Son strive with stubborn undeserving men, shouldn’t we do the same, both toward those in the Church, and those without? They will know we are Christians by our love one to another. 

So Christ – looking around at them in anger then heals the man.  Even in this act, he teaches us.  How many of us have, due to an angry flash, neglected to do the right thing – possibly punishing the innocent party at the same time?  Christ does not forget this man or feel slighted by their hard heartedness.  But often we, under pressure from those around us cave in to the pressure and make a weak apology to the party in need, ‘Buddy can you just come back tomorrow’?  But our Lord doesn’t do this.  Remember the Proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27–28)

First, let us remember that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  Yet these men were making the gift of God to us to be a burden to men.  Do we do that?  Of course the answer is that we do at times the very same thing.  I realize it isn’t our intention, but do we strive with those around us so that they know we love them – or do we demand strict adherence to the law?  The Sabbath was never meant to be a burden to men.  But men, not knowing their God misapplied Sabbath law to be a burden from an overbearing God.  Remember my comments on the man picking up sticks the last time we met?  It was this man’s deliberate tempting of God for which he was guilty.  Sure, picking up sticks was not permitted, but the reason was that we men might see the faithfulness of our God.  He’d already showed them in the collection of manna that he could be trusted and knew their need.  What kind of sticks are we picking up – are we tempting our God?!

Second, do we strive and condescend with others in a spirit of genuine concern for their souls – even if they despitefully use us? Do we love our enemies?  Christ did!  Luke 6:27-30 says, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”  And he taught us this both by example in our passage, as well as directly in this passage.  This tells me it’s a serious matter.  How we treat one another is of paramount concern in today’s world folks.

The enemy has made many of us to be angry because of the injustice in the world.  But do we let that anger justify ourselves to disobey the Lord plain directive to love our enemies and one another?  If we do – we give satan the foothold in our lives. 

And how do we think unbelievers will respond to people who angrily tell them to keep their politics to themselves, and yet do not actually care about their souls? Have we forgotten that the Lord has placed us providentially in this time and place – and He send us to go out into the highways and byways to compel them to come in?  How can we be salt & light when we let our anger direct our hearts?  The Scripture says be angry and sin not!  Our Lords anger didn’t prevent him from healing the man – and nor did he lash out at them for the hardness of heart.  The anger of Christ wasn’t malicious – it was because of love – we are told he was grieved at them.  You cannot be grieved with someone you do not know or care about. 

May the Lord help us to follow the example of Christ and trust in the providence of our God.



[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mk 2:23–3:6.
[2] The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series. -- Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 70.
[3] The following Proverb 26:5 speaks to NOT answering the fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes.  Christ occasionally followed this proverb also.
[4]The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series. -- Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 72.

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